Apollo 13, the needle-eye and the decisive moment.

Yesterday I re-watch on TV movie “Apollo 13” that I believe is a good way to discuss with my sons about the conquest of the Moon, the technology involved back then (I always liked those LEMs… remember that old lunar lander game ?) and so on… It is a decent movie too, overall well done, and with (IMO) solid actor performances.

This morning I was thinking a bit about that, and more generally about Hollywood’s strategy to keep the audience excited and insecure about the final outcome in thrillers. Seems like the storyboard of those films (though this one is special since it relates to actual events) are done in a way that the audience feels convinced that there is absolutely no margin between an (expected) happy-end as opposed to a final tragedy (that is generally avoided). In other words the storyboard makes believe that the plot involves few uncertainty, in a sense that if people are doing the right job, the denouement is safe. But if they make the slightest mistake they are lost. All the game is to slip through that needle-eye. It is a tiny opening but if you do right you get into it and you are all set.

But real life is not like that. There is lot of uncertainty, happy and unhappy accidents that nobody can not really control. If the crew from Apollo 13 was finally rescued it owes a lot to the staff of course (on board and that of the control center), but also to a part of uncontrolled luck, and also it is likely that in fact there was no tiny very identifiable needle-eye, but instead a blurry passage, just because you never control all the parameters to pass through it. All you have to do is to make sure that most chance is on your side.

And then I thought about photography and think the very same could apply. Take the “decisive moment” myth. It just works like an Hollywood storyboard. If we believe in it then you believe that there should be some very special fleeting moments that the best photographers are able to catch, unlike the others (both moments and photographers). Decisive moments are like needle-eyes….

Well… are they, really ?

Instead I believe there is just a blurry continuum of things that sometimes make a good picture.


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